While much of the world's attention focuses on Iran's nuclear program, Tehran has made considerable progress on another security front in recent years -- steadily increasing the reach and lethality of its naval forces. The goal by 2025, if all goes as the country has planned, is to have a navy that can deploy anywhere within a strategic triangle from the Strait of Hormuz to the Red Sea to the Strait of Malacca.
Should such plans materialize -- and Iran is making steady progress -- Tehran would redraw the strategic calculus of an already volatile region. The Persian Gulf is home to some of the world's most valuable supply lines, routes that are vital to the global energy supply. In the last few years, Iran has invested heavily in a domestic defense industry that now has the ability to produce large-scale warships, submarines, and missiles.
Since the end of the Iran-Iraq War in 1988, Iran has largely pursued a strategy of deterrence. Its ground forces, which number roughly 450,000, are trained and equipped to fight a prolonged, asymmetric defensive battle on its own territory. Likewise, Iran's air force can protect high value domestic targets such as the Natanz uranium enrichment facility and numerous military and political headquarters inside Tehran; it is incapable of long-range strike missions abroad. Iran simply does not possess the capability to project hard power into neighboring states.
But Iran's navy is different. It is the best organized, best trained, and best equipped service of the country's conventional military establishment. More than a nuclear weapons program, which would likely function as a passive deterrent, Iran's navy is an active component of Iran's activist foreign policy. The country's leadership, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has repeatedly said that Iran's navy is the critical foundation on which its long-term development and prosperity
- Full website and iPad access
- Magazine issues
- New! Books from the Foreign Affairs Anthology Series